It’s a shared human experience to search for a purpose to the rhythms and circumstances of our lives. How do we live a life that is fulfilling and enriching? As Christians, we often frame this as “searching for our calling.” What is it that God wants us to do to advance His kingdom? How will He use us for His greater purpose?
WHERE MOST OF US START THE SEARCH – Diving for Ground Balls
During my career helping executives secure increasingly meaningful work, I have gotten to know countless individuals in a deeply personal way as they approached mid-career self-assessment that I saw lead to both healthy and unhealthy responses. When a potential seismic professional and life shift is on the table, a natural baseline question to ask is, “What am I really good at, and who honestly needs that done?” I even asked that question myself when my own sense of divine disruption led me to eventually transition out of a career in the corporate world.
When I first started going down the road of “What am I good at, and who needs that done?”, I also adopted the idea that the answer could be virtually anything. “It could be ANYTHING!” That made for a truly daunting landscape of nearly endless options and turned out to be, possibly, one of the worst organizing principles of all time. In baseball terms, I felt compelled to dive for virtually every ground ball, whether it was hit to my side of the infield or not. Any opportunity that glanced into my field of vision I was afraid not to consider. What if God was firing calling ground balls at me, and I couldn’t get my glove down on the one he really wanted me to get? Anything that came into sight and in anyway could be considered aligned with my skills and experiences, surely God would want me to go check it out and spend time doing it to find out if he was calling me there, right?
That approach proved as unaware of God’s love for order as it was fruitless in finding what I hoped would feel like God’s unmistakable direction. I was spread thin across too many different activities, completely exhausted and, frankly, frustrated. There was a point in time in which I looked at the heavens and said “Hey, God, in case you’re not paying attention, I’m out here trying to find your will for my life, and I am doing my part out here…..how about you?!”
A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF “CALLING”
That’s when Ephesians 2:10 spoke loudly to me: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Wait! What? The God of the universe, stopped what He was doing, looked forward in time and specifically prepared things for me to do? How great would that be? Who knows me better than the God who created me? That changed my concept of the game; from randomly diving for every ground ball to developing a clearer view of our all-knowing God intentionally creating assignments that fit me to a “T”, designed to result in my joy, peace and sense of purpose and meaning in this world.
You can take the same comfort I did in knowing from this verse in Ephesians that we are all uniquely prepared for good things that God has intentionally thought about and prepared for us to take part in. God has already done His part. In His divine way, He established my opportunities to join Him at work in a world He wants to transform. Knowing precisely who I am, exactly what the experiences of my life have caused me to care most deeply about, He has planned for my participation in His plan. Think about this as the intersection of Romans 8:28 (“…all things work together for good…”) and Ephesians 2:10. God is not testing our infielding skills or how far we will dive to please Him. He has organized our path around our own inspired passions and Godly priorities drawn from the experiences he has allowed into our lives for His glory and honor.
A SUSTAINABLE CALLING HAS LONGEVITY
I came to realize that the better question for realizing your calling is asking is, “What would I give the next 10 years of my life away to, if I thought I could make a difference?”
It’s as challenging as it is simple and customized to your deepest passions. Something you’d feel lucky to get to do is exactly the kind of thing that God would have used your profile to intentionally prepare for you in advance. And, what’s more, my promise is that the more specifically you can be in answering that questions, the higher the probability you will actually get to do it.
This ushers in a whole different internal conversation about how your life experiences have shaped you – the family you grew up in, the successes and failures of your professional and personal life, the people God has led you to care for and who have been led to care for you. Think of things you’d find most gratifying to help nurture into full bloom or that you most deeply care about impacting through God’s provision in your life. This counter-intuitive idea of narrowing the range of things that could be considered your true calling feels a little selfish at first. However, if God prepared things in advance for you to do, through the full range of experiences that God has allowed into your life, what do you care so deeply about that that you would give away the next decade of your life to see it accomplished?
Isn’t this the way God would likely have connected the dots between who you are and what He would prepare in advance for you to do? He doesn’t need us to accomplish any part of His plans bringing the Kingdom to earth – it is not what we are good at that He needs us to direct toward part of His plan that is hanging in the balance waiting for us to give God a hand. No, His purpose in preparing things in advance for us to do is all about our joy, peace and fulfillment as His children working alongside Him in doing things He made us to care about at our core.
Could you build houses in Haiti for a month? Maybe. What about doing it for 10 years? Maybe not. Could you stay in your current marketplace role another year with the tugging at your heart you are experiencing? Probably. Could you manage that tension for the next 10 years? Maybe not.
Of course, no one is holding you to reaching a 10-year anniversary, but contemplating a decade raises the stakes on the level of passion. It’s a key differentiating element between where you could spend your time volunteering versus what is your calling, prepared in advance by God exactly for you.
THE PROCESS AND THE DISCIPLINE IT TAKES
Truly answering this question is a spiritual discipline. Can you feel the flutter of excitement at the possibility that finding and living out your calling would mean doing something with the rest of your life that you would absolutely LOVE to be part of? Bringing part of the Kingdom to earth that you would give anything to leave as a legacy of your time here on earth? It takes time reflecting on your heart’s desires and also in conversation with God and others. Who do you know that knows you well, has a growing relationship with Christ and can help you sort through your articulation passions, giftings, and opportunities that God might bring your way? Let their feedback be encouragements and challenges that help you iterate to the most specificity you can bring to the answer.
Specificity is key. It is hard work, but it is worth it.
If you’ve come to the conclusion that “I want to give my life away to helping people learn to live their faith more fully,” your next question should be “Which people?” International? Domestic? Men? Women? Adults? Adolescents? Children? Then, “Where?” A certain part of your city perhaps?
The more vague and amorphous your answer, the harder it will be to actually implement. The more you discipline yourself to answer in a specific way, the higher the probability is that you’ll actually live out your calling in action.
EMBARKING ON THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG
Bob Buford was a mentor to me through my mid-point career shift. He helped me more fully understand why reflection is so key when we seek to find our calling for the next season. I was sitting in his office, going over a spreadsheet I had made of organizations I was considering and different elements I was comparing. He smiled and said to me, “I think you’ll find the answer is a lot more about archaeology than it is about architecture.”
I didn’t understand everything at that moment, but I now realize he was relaying that contemplating God’s purpose for us is all about intentional reflection. We get so wrapped up in the architectural process of mapping out a plan. First, we must build the foundation, then the first floor, then the second floor, and so on. The archaeological process, on the other hand, is about going deep to find out what God has placed inside you. There may be a strong passion hidden under the various levels of experiences God has given you. You’ll see patterns and themes when you look at your past experiences and what they reveal about how God has uniquely wired you.
Edgar Sandoval, the current President of World Vision USA, went through his own mid-career shift. It took archaeology to get clear on what he would give away the next 10 years of his life to that would make a difference. Born in the U.S. but having grown up in Central and South America, Sandoval knew poverty well as a child. He came to the U.S. at age 18 with only $50 in his pocket. Remarkably, he worked his way up from minimum-wage jobs to become a global Vice President at Proctor & Gamble. Then, he felt a deep sense that God was calling him to a different path – but where? To do what? He went through a strategic process of archaeology through the Halftime Institute and with a coach. He looked back on the experiences God had placed in his life. He acknowledged a deep passion in his heart to give back to communities like those where he grew up. From there, he found a calling at World Vision that he calls “an improbable miracle of God.” Now he is overseeing one of the largest and most impactful ministries of our age—but it all started with reflection.
God may take you on a wildly different career path, like He did with Sandoval, but He’s never random. He will find a way to align your skills and passion, often in a way you may not see coming.
YOUR CALLING CAN BE YOUR WITNESS
God’s love for us is abundant, and he wants us to experience joy, purpose, and meaning. If we are to find this in our careers, we immediately distinguish ourselves from 70% of the population research tells us hate their jobs. Living with passion and purpose, immediately we become the ambassadors of Christ. We can be that beacon of light in our community or business that invites the question, “Why are you different?”
Matthew 5 says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” When you get ahold of your calling, you can let your light shine before men that they will glorify the Father in heaven because of your good works. Now, that is the essence of living the full Christian calling!
What would you give the next 10 years of your life to if you believed it could make a difference for the Kingdom?
Greg Barnes is the Vice Chairman and President of Mission Enterprise Division at FaithSearch Partners, an executive recruiting firm focused on faith-based ministries, schools, churches, and hospitals. Greg is the former President of Halftime Talent Solutions, a firm he founded after a successful career in corporate executive recruiting. Greg’s expertise and passion is to help Christian leaders align their gifts and talents with ministries and businesses that need their time and talent in order to build the Kingdom.